The hubby and I were looking for a low key lunch one Saturday, so we headed into to Abuela’s. A fairly new restaurant located on Madison Blvd, they are set back from the street but still easy to spot. Figuring out parking was a little tougher, the striping facing the street had faded, so I pulled over to the long rows of parking spots on the west side of the building. Equating street side with entrance, I walked around the building and was surprised to find a staff member holding open the door for me. Until she very gently and graciously informed me that I was coming in the back door. My husband, following in a second car, followed my lead and made the same mistake. Ooops. So, for the record, the entrance is on the west side, facing the majority of the parking lot.
Once we made our way inside, we were instructed to choose a table. We selected a high backed booth with proved to have comfortable, well stuffed seats. As we perused the menus, chips and salsa were brought to our table.
This was my first hint that we were in for something different. I find many chip baskets are populated with chips which are thick and dusty. Their matching salsa bowl filled with salted tomato paste, perhaps with a seed or two floating inside. This chips and salsa experience was completely not that. The chips were thicker than some, but fresh, with a rich yellow color and a sharp crunch. The salsa was bursting with flavor. The tomatoes were well blended but some chunkiness remained, so it stayed on the chips well. The spice level was mild, but the flavor profile was still interesting, making this a salsa with broad appeal.
As we munched on chips, we placed our orders, first for drinks and then for our lunches. We both opted for lunch combos–you choose two items, they come with a side of rice and beans. I went with a beef flauta and a chicken tamale and my husband opted for a chicken flauta and a chicken taco. He had his choice of tortillas (flour or housemade corn) and style (traditional or American) for the taco. He selected a traditional style with a housemade corn tortilla. We were surprised to see that the dinner entrees were not significantly more expensive than the lunch specials.
Our orders placed, we soaked up the decor. A single television set was showing muted football while Spanish music played in the background. The walls were bright yellow and blue, vinyl prayer flags hung from the ceiling alternating cacti and sombreros. The laminate tables were clean and shone in the sunlight coming through the windows.
Our food came out so quickly, it was almost startling. The individual items were smaller than many places, but the overall plates were well proportioned (I still needed a box for leftovers, but it was more like a quarter of my meal than half.). Both my husband and I were struck by the beautiful plating.
My flauta, contained shredded beef which was lightly spicy, wrapped in one of the housemade corn tortillas and cooked. The final result was slightly crispy on the exterior, but still soft and flavorful. My tamale had already been removed from it’s husk (hurrah! That is always a somewhat messy process.) and was topped with sauce. The chicken filling was shredded and spiced. I was surprised to note that the masa (the corn meal dough which surrounds the filling) was also seasoned. Taken together, this pushed the tamale to a hair too spicy for me, but it would be perfect for those happier on the “medium” section of the scale. The medium grained rice was firm and lightly oiled with a subtle seasoning. An occasional corn kernal or pea made an appearance, as did tiny bits of jalapeno. The beans were lovely and creamy, and when I snagged a bite topped with cheese, they were perfect. By themselves though, I thought they needed a touch more salt. My husband thought they were perfect as they were, so your mileage may vary.
My husband enjoyed his meal, most especially his taco which came out on a separate plate.
The crisped exterior. The housemade tortilla, the seasonings on the chicken. The fresh onion and cilantro. It all added up to lots of happy noises and “This is really good!” declarations.
I went into Abuela’s expecting fairly standard Mexican fare. What we got was anything but. The fresh ingredients, flavorful dishes, and friendly service mean that we will be back, and often. Although we did not have room for dessert, our server recommended the fried ice cream and, given that she also gave the nod to the wonderful housemade tortillas, I expect it to be excellent as well. If you are in the area, stop by and give them a try.
Total for the meal: $18.16 (two lunch combos, two soft drinks)